EDIT @ 9 PM: Clarified that man without a pulse was later resuscitated and Reverend Lynn Watson says he is “fine” now.
A press conference was called to speak about why the warming centre at St Paul’s United Church was closed on January 20th, but the discussion was more about the next steps than it was about looking at the past.
Reverend Lynn Watson lead the meeting alongside Judy Edgar – who played a key role in organizing the warming centre when it was open. Watson explained that while the church had its doors open to those who needed shelter, 25 different people came. Watson said at times – the Friday before they closed being one of those times – there were 10 or more people in the basement of the church. She says the church can only handle six to seven people in its basement.
Watson says they underestimated the homeless crisis and the complexity of it in the area. She adds that they did not underestimate the willingness of the community to help. Watson noted that donations of clothing are still being dropped off at the church.
Watson says the weekend they closed a man had come in after taking what he said were sleeping pills. He did not wake up in the morning and had no pulse, but was later resuscitated. Watson said it was not an overdose and the man is “fine now. She added that there is no “concrete evidence” that there was drug use on the property.
While Watson began the meeting saying she wanted to put “rumours to rest,” most of the meeting was spent talking about what needs to happen in the community to work on the homelessness crisis. “There are so many levels to this issue,” Watson said. She said what’s most important to remember is that these people are our neighbours. She said there are so many levels to addiction and why it happens. “They are us,” Watson said of the homeless in North Hastings.
The night the church closed as a warming centre, Watson said a man who had come every night they were open came back later that day and asked for a shovel. She said, even though the church wasn’t going to be open that day, he wanted to shovel the front steps.
“Having a shelter is a band-aid solution,” Watson said. She says police officers need to be trained so that they aren’t frustrated when they have to respond to calls about the same person multiple times. Despite that, Watson noted how the police were respectful and treated those at the warming centre with dignity. Watson said there needs to be a commitment to a living wage, adding that $14 an hour isn’t enough. She said the community can start by sending letters to the levels of government for support, including at the County and municipal levels.
Mayor of Bancroft Paul Jenkins attended the meeting along with Deputy Mayor Charles Mullett. Jenkins complimented Watson, Edgar and volunteers of the warming centre for doing something that no one has been able to do before them, which is quantify the problem. “We will do the best we can to keep pushing it up the ladder,” Jenkins added when asked what he can do as a sitting member of Hastings County council.
Edgar says homelessness is now an issue she better understands because of the “resilient and feisty” people she met while the warming centre was open. “It was worth it,” she said.
Watson said her job as a Pastor is to inspire. She added she will continue to hold the feet of “the powers that be” to the fire to work on a solution to this issue. She added that this is still a community effort.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves that this could happen in our community,” Edgar said. “We have to change.”